During this season when shop windows full of electric colors and kinetic displays beckon people in from outside, it's rare to find an art exhibit that can keep up. In the few days that "Transcriptions," Kathleen Cavender's show at the Lorinda Knight Gallery has been up, more visitors than usual have wandered in to look at her warmly hued landscapes.
The interest is due no doubt to Cavender's vivid palette and landscapes that evoke in the viewer the sense of a half-remembered fairy tale or an underlined page from one woman's dream dictionary.
"In my paintings, everything is metaphorical," says Cavender. Take, for instance, "Ritual Blessing," in which the Venus de Milo rests in a pool at the foot of a waterfall. "This is about metamorphosis," she says, adding that she worked as a model while in her twenties. "The Venus de Milo represents physical beauty and how we're taught that our appearance is everything." The waterfall expressing the fluidity of change, becoming a still river, which Cavender says "is about peace and accepting. And the lamb, because I'm a Christian, represents obedient worship."
Although Cavender brings up the straightlaced church words "obedience" and "worship, the artist is warm, funny and very contemporary. When she talks about her work, it's with the enthusiasm of someone who loves what she does and yet she uses her art to work through the deepest issues of her life, even to unravel the wisdom tangled up in the imagery of dreams. The haunting but strangely comforting "Foxhole Prayers" is a good case in point. A gold-framed elevator hangs in an uneasy gray landscape empty of all but a stand of poplars and a tornado. Inside the elevator is a fox.
" 'Foxhole Prayers' came from a nightmare. It was one of those ones where you're trapped in an elevator, and it's disengaged from the shaft," she says. "The elevator comes from the Davenport Hotel, and the fox is just a whimsical touch. It's about faith and finding the balance between what is real and what we can only find by faith."
"Foxhole Prayers" is one of several paintings in which Cavender uses the medium of china marker and turpentine on waxy "milk carton" paper. The technique shows up again in "Goodwill Hunting," in which the orangey red of a Davenport portico mirrors the inset of a sliced tomato. In the center, three magpies stand in a gray no-man's-land.
Cavender gets her material not only from dreams, but also in the echoes of memory and the framework of ideas. In "Good Luck," the disparate elements of a seated woman, flying fruit, an approaching tornado and an antique calling card are mystifying but cohesive nonetheless.
"This one is made up of images from my mother's life," says Cavender. "Her father was a photographer, and this image here is from a vintage photograph. The apples are her grandchildren, and the shrubbery here represents her children."
While the specific meaning of the tornado is not immediately apparent, its tremendous capacity for upheaval is. "The tornado represents my father," Cavender explains. "Do you ever have one of those things in your life that raises up a lot of dust and chaos and makes it hard to see? That's what the tornado is in my paintings, and that's what my father was like in my mother's life."
Her relationship with her mother emerges in another large oil, "The Lesson." While the bottom of the painting is framed in pieces of a sewing pattern and spools of thread and sewing scissors are readily apparent, the painting isn't about sewing. The suggestion of the mother-daughter relationship is further evidenced by the dolls, both coming down and forward like rain and in the arms of a little girl, offering clues to the painting's deeper meaning.
"This is one of the most important paintings I've ever done. The coffee cups here represent an act of obedience. Like my son does now while I'm painting, I used to take my mother her coffee while she was sewing," says Cavender with a gentle smile. "And the scissors, if I lost her scissors there would be hell to pay."
While the images of the little girl and the doll figures translate sorrow, the fabric behind the pattern, of butterflies, signifies transformation as does the skeletal shape of a nautilus. "The perfectness of the design, the nautilus shell here is about acceptance and stillness."
Quiet refuge, whether in nature or in the heart of the city, found in many of the paintings in Cavender's show, but especially in "Total Recall." An inset of winter trees and stone benches is a chilly contrast to the warm meadow and stream that frames it. "This represents how we work out being busy and still in our lives," says Cavender. "The inset is actually taken from a park in Seattle, and I wanted to use it because it shows how even in the middle of the madness, there's a place of simplicity and calm."
& & & lt;i & Transcriptions, a show of work by Kathleen Cavender, is at the Lorinda Knight Gallery, 523 W. Sprague, through December. Call: 838-3740. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
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